by Jamie Bonnema
Nearly two months ago, I found myself in situations where I’d rather not be. I reacted to what was going on around me, responded to an opinion, or took a stand and ended up walking in front of a crowd to be stoned. It happened over and over again. Please don’t pity me—I make my own decisions, right or wrong, and make them with good intentions. Good intentions don’t always lead to friendly places, though, and can lead to misunderstandings that may cost relationships or reputations. Good intentions can even reveal differences that cannot be reconciled while also holding onto God’s best for our lives—but that is another topic for another day. But whether it was filling up with too much reality (or social media), or if I was just feeling too many stones hit me square, I got to the point where I couldn’t look around and not be angry. I had to walk away to examine the condition of my heart. I needed to reassess my actions and the reasons for my choices. Knowing that so many others are feeling the same thing, this is what I wrote then, and I’ll update you at the end:
God speaks to me through writing. He speaks to me through worship. He speaks in the quietness of my home or while listening to nature on a walk through the woods. He also speaks in the middle of my turmoil. The words I put on paper often flow from a full mind, a troubled heart, and an unsettled spirit. I am exhausted, almost to the point of a disabled spirit. But, I know that God will win the battle in my mind because I have this reminder,
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
We cannot see the enemy, and yet it presents itself as conflicts with the person we formerly worked with, the cousin we grew up with, or the friend we used to know. It presents itself in the disagreement taken personally to a higher level of pain and division. Our enemy cleverly has clothed himself in the complicated tensions with a family member we spent so much time getting to know, the acquaintance we had coffee with, a camping buddy, a colleague we once depended on and trusted, or even our own spouse. We are all fooled.
And so, we fight, debate, and we argue, intent on winning, hoping one more comment will sway our opponent into coming to their senses and understanding, and even agreeing with, our perspective and actions. And when it is all done, while we know we spoke from an honest place in our heart, we lost—because another soul is just as angry as we are, or confused, in pain, or afraid. We lost because we do love them no matter where they stand. But we forgot something. We forgot to look past the conflict to see the enemy at work. We focused on the cutting words, the accusations, the blame, and the anger. We saw the manipulation of half-truths, twisted facts, and we stepped up to defend our name (or someone else’s). Or maybe we misunderstood altogether and only saw an antagonist. But we forgot that all of those things were not really coming from the person we were confronting. They were coming from a place we could not see nor could our human hands touch.
I stepped away from the conversations, the confrontations, and social media for awhile to try to hear things that I am having trouble hearing lately. I took a walk by myself, felt the sun on my face, took in the stillness of the air, and listened to the crunch of my steps from last year’s leaves under my feet. Sometimes my prayers are loud, but on my walk they were quiet. I needed to slow down from the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions that the past couple of days had brought. I needed to be with God, in the quiet and enjoy Him. I needed to just be still, let questions be answered another day, allow conflicts to just settle for a bit, and get back to discerning between when it’s a time to speak and a time to be silent.
While I feel like I have been constantly pulled back into battle, I also know the battle is not mine to win. It is not my burden to bear, but it is my privilege to join God in what He is doing. And right now, people need truth and often want compassion instead. But aren’t we to have both? I am sorry to admit, I have not felt enough compassion for those who are truly afraid or angry because I’m not seeing their inward struggles. I have not understood that the fear and pain they are experiencing is because faith has been shaken, hope has been lost, or salvation has never been found. Our flesh is dominating, and we are trying to heal a spiritual wound with more answers and control.
So, what do we do to heal this spiritual wound while so many fear for their physical lives? We begin with prayer. We recognize the battle unseen. We claim God’s sovereignty over that battle. We pray for our enemies. We pray for our friends. We take our fight from the public arena, or from our private conversation with our friend, and we drive it back into the hands of the only one who knows every detail of the past, present, and future. We turn to God’s unfailing Word. We ask for discernment and pursue truth. Then, we wait, we listen, and we pay attention if there is more that we are to do. Sometimes we are to keep praying. Sometimes, we gain wisdom over the situation. Other times we need to go back and ask forgiveness for how we handled things. And in other situations, God may steer us further into conflict, to be light and truth.
How we are to proceed we cannot know for sure until we surrender our fight to God and equip ourselves in the Word while committing to prayer. This is difficult to do at times when our flesh screams “I am right,” and our impatience demands immediate resolution. We want action because we think that action always controls the outcome. But if you think about what we naturally want to do with conflict–it’s everything we should be filtering through God first. We vent, we want someone to understand, we complain, we fuel our “rightness”, we look for affirmations through approval, agreement, another fact, and the perspective of someone we esteem. I am not saying that seeking the wisdom of a friend or thinking out loud with a friend is wrong—bouncing our thoughts off of a trusted friend is one of the blessings of Godly relationships! But if that is our only outlet, or it is misused, then we are really missing out on the opportunity to join in on what God is doing around us.
My update today is this: I sometimes wonder if I have made any progress at all at in understanding my role in the battle. In the heat of the moment I can still forget. But when I get it right, I know that I am not there to win—I am not that powerful. I am there, protected by the armor of God, to stand in the fight until the final day. The battle may feel more intense. And when the intensity increases, it would be tempting to walk away and hope for the best for others. But that is not what we are called to do. We have armor available to us, that we get to put on daily. This armor allows us to be protected against the spiritual war that we cannot see. It allows us to courageously, compassionately stand in the battle for truth.
Let us not be deceived by empty words (Ephesians 5:6), but let us put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 5:13). Let us approach our conflict in prayer so that we proceed with both truth and compassion. We can continue to fight those who oppose us, run away weary or scared, or we can look to God to reveal our real enemy.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17
If you would like to learn more about recognizing spiritual warfare and how to arm yourself, I recommend reading Lord is it Warfare? Teach Me to Stand, by Kay Arthur.
Jamie Bonnema is a former youth treatment counselor for residential care, education, and wilderness programs. She is a married mother of four children, works from home with a nutrigenomics company, enjoys working with GCA in various roles, and loves outdoor recreation.